Owning the Blue Economy on South Coast

By Steven Froias // Contributing Writer

Alex Thillerup speaks in almost apocalyptic terms when the subject is offshore wind energy. Oh, it’s not in a “Game of Thrones” ‘Winter Is Coming’ style way. Rather, his cheery demeanor heralds a bright new day on the horizon. 

BUT…it’s a day that needs to be greeted with preparation and planning. 

Billions of dollars are about to be invested in offshore wind energy, he warns – and the infrastructure to handle that investment needs to be put in place now in order to seize the tsunami of opportunity about to hit the United States broadly, and South Coast in particular. 

Most recently, Alex issued his “Be Prepared” warning at the virtual 2020 UMass Dartmouth Marine Renewable Energy Conference, On and Off the Grid, on Thursday, Nov. 12. He was one of a plethora of renewable energy superstars who spoke about the very real future beginning to crash onto our shores. 

It’s a topic Thillerup speaks to regularly as leader of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster on behalf of Xodus Group, the energy consulting firm tasked by the Port of New Bedford to create the local infrastructure that will be necessary to fully realize the offshore wind energy industry here in Massachusetts.

That the future has arrived is in no doubt. Indeed, the conference kicked off with a powerful statement by Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. She said, “When you think about renewable energy, you can’t help but think about the South Coast region of our Commonwealth…This is happening right in your backyard…I’ve often said, the South Coast region owns the Blue Economy.”

The World Bank defines the Blue Economy as the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihood and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.

South Coast owns the Blue Economy, Polito noted while referencing offshore wind, because the region has the “academic, community and private sector partners” necessary to power a renewable Blue Economy. (Click here to watch the entire UMass Dartmouth 2020 Marine Renewable Energy Conference.)  

Workforce and talent development are key to growing this innovative economy she said – which is where the New Bedford Ocean Cluster comes in. 

The looming offshore wind energy industry will have many needs. Ensuring that the resources the Port of New Bedford enjoys are perfectly positioned and ready to benefit from offshore wind is a key mission of the New Bedford Ocean Cluster. 

During his presentation later on in the conference, Alex Thillerup began by saying, “I want to set the scene…right now we’re looking at this massive pipeline (of expenditure in offshore wind). We’re looking at $80 billion dollars…over the next 10 years” in the United States. 

Obviously, that’s real money. And, it’s going to require a human resource investment on every level, too. Which is why preparation and planning today is key to success tomorrow. Building the future of offshore wind is nothing less than a full-blown mobilization of all maritime industry assets and resources, from the human to the technological.

“It’s complicated,” he said. 

Thillerup said that right now there are just under 20 offshore wind developments underway, including Vineyard Wind from the Port of New Bedford, and each is made up of components that require planning and analysis; leasing; site assessment; and then construction and maintenance.

What he and the New Bedford Ocean Cluster is discussing locally with small- and medium-sized business – and with the larger community – is how they can take advantage of this mega-industry arriving on their doorstep.  

The first agenda item is to develop an understanding of the potential market – its sheer size, complexity and dynamics on a granular level.

Next up is translating that potential market into tangible, company-specific opportunities. For example, workforce training will be a critical need moving forward, as trades from welders to electricians will be needed to realize offshore wind construction and maintenance.

Finding the right collaborators for the big investments in offshore wind both overseas – where the industry has a huge head start – and regionally follows.

And finally, a business model to deliver local services and products needs to be developed. 

“What we are doing with the New Bedford Ocean Cluster,” he said, “is working with the local communities, in New Bedford and also Massachusetts, to take this $80 billion and break it down to bite-sized opportunities that companies can actually go after – something that you can actually build a business model around.” 

He concluded by saying, “Now is actually a really good time to participate in the offshore wind industry. It is definitely starting and definitely accelerating over the next many years.”

Or, as he has frequently stated, “You have no idea what’s coming. Get ready.” 

One way you can do that is by contacting the New Bedford Ocean Cluster for more information at the email below. And then be ready to define your role in what’s coming – and claim your ownership stake in South Coast’s Blue Economy.